Jessica Cole, now an Ecologist at The Ecology Consultancy, was still finishing her studies when we offered her her first full-time job. The experience and knowledge Jess had gained throughout university was what made her profile stand out in the crowd.
Jess shares her top tips to getting a job in ecology straight after university
1. Work on your ID and survey skills
If your course is less vocational and more academically focused you will often not cover the ID skills or survey types required for consultancy. Attend ID and survey courses like Phase I habitat surveys, run by organisations such as the Field Studies Council, wildlife trusts, and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM); and then get out there and practice, practice, practice to sharpen your new skills and keep them fresh!
2. Make the most of your summer break
Take a look at our survey calendar and you can see summer is the busiest time for ecology surveying. Your university’s careers service can help with finding work experience or internship opportunities. Or try to contact consultancies directly to enquire about summer work, smaller entities are often very grateful for the help. This work may be paid or unpaid, but the experience will make your CV glow.
3. The more experience the better
Don’t leave gaining work experience to the last minute, even your first summer break at university should be utilised. If you can gain experience at more than one consultancy employers will see true dedication. They will be looking particularly for demonstrable experience in protected species surveys as the majority of our survey work is driven by species protected under European law, such as bats, great crested newt, dormouse, and otters, and other species afforded UK protection, including common reptiles and water vole.
4. Ask questions
Get as much out of your work experience as possible by getting involved and asking searching questions. Having survey experience on your CV is impressive; add to that depth of knowledge and you’re sure to impress in interviews.
5. Protected Species Licence
You will have a clear advantage when applying if you have already obtained European Protected Species survey licences. This is easier said than done and will take effort on your part. Even if you’re not quite there, working towards a licence shows dedication to your chosen career path, and increases your value to employers. However, it’s not just about ticking boxes, your enthusiasm and interest is what will shine.
6. Consultancy skills
Ask anyone in this career ‘why they do it’, most people will say their passion for wildlife, the ability to be outside amongst nature, and the variety of work. Whilst field surveys make up a high proportion of your time in a Graduate Ecologist job role, there are other tasks such as reporting, writing, communicating with clients and your colleagues, and project management skills. If you can gain and demonstrate these skills, any prospective employer will always look favourably at your application.
7. Apply early
Start looking for work sooner rather than later – ideally after Christmas of your final year. Employers will be planning for the survey season ahead and looking to hire summer staff.
8. Volunteering is important
Being an active member of local wildlife groups, and university societies will provide you with lots of skills and knowledge. You may not know of half the groups out there that can cater for your interests as a naturalist, whether it be bats or botany! It is important to remain genuine and dedicated with local wildlife groups, they often need your help and shouldn’t just be used as a route to consultancy work.
9. CIEEM membership
Achieving CIEEM membership is vital for professional ecologists. Student membership is the best option for you while studying – it costs £25 (and if your degree scheme is CIEEM accredited, you will be eligible for free Student membership) and requires only basic survey experience. You should upgrade to Qualifying member level after finishing your studies, and most employers will provide all or some of the ongoing cost of membership.
10. Get connected
LinkedIn is a great way to promote yourself and connect with environmental business all over the world! Even if you have never been formally employed, any work experience or volunteering can give you an eye-catching LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn also allows you to ‘link’ with consultancies and receive alerts when job vacancies arise, so you need never miss that opportunity to bag your dream job!
11. Be realistic
Companies often like to hire young graduates on short-term contracts just for the summer season. Don’t let this dishearten you, short term contracts are vital stepping stones to that perfect permanent position. Keep working hard, it’ll all be worth it in the end!
My fellow Field Ecologist at The Ecology Consultancy, Rebecca Short, provided this inspirational advice:
“Surround yourself with people that inspire you. Do things that make a difference to your natural community. Whether it’s learning native taxa, joining a local conservation project, or helping your university meet green targets; feel proud of what you do and maybe you’ll get noticed for your efforts. It is often surprising how generous people can be in furthering your development. Everyone has to, and has, started somewhere.
Anyone working full time will tell you how much freedom there is as a student. Let it not be a wasted opportunity. This is the time to develop yourself and find out what you’re really good at before you graduate.”